“About Your Articles about Russia”

Inkedyour articles_LIA concerned reader sent me this letter the other day. I was especially touched by the closing sentence: “When I was in Russia it appeared that common citizens were living comfortably, more-so than in USA.” The reader’s keen observations about life in Russia (about which I know next to nothing, despite having lived there for twenty-five years or so) are borne out by the article below.

Staff at Russia’s Main Cancer Center Quit En Masse, Citing Low Wages and Dire Conditions
Matthew Luxmoore
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
October 01, 2019

MOSCOW—Russia’s main cancer treatment center has been rocked by a wave of resignations amid complaints about low wages and deteriorating conditions at its wards, in the latest indication of what medical professionals say is a systemic crisis that is endangering the quality and availability of critical care in the country.

At least 10 doctors have resigned over the past two days from the N.N. Blokhin Cancer Research Center, which bills itself as the biggest oncology clinic in Europe, following the publication of a video address from 26 staff members of its childhood cancer institute calling for the institution to reform its management and improve conditions for employees.

In the clip, which was posted to YouTube on September 30, four doctors from the institute decry falling salaries and alleged intimidation on the part of management and paint a picture of a health-care center that has fallen into serious disrepair.

“For years, children with cancer have been treated in terrible conditions. There’s no ventilation, mold is eating through the walls, and the wards are overcrowded with sick patients,” they say in their video address, which had gathered almost 250,000 views by the afternoon of October 1.

According to Maksim Rykov, deputy director of the childhood cancer institute and one of the doctors who features in the video, at least 12 of his staff handed in their resignations on October 1 and dozens more are set to follow. He told RFE/RL the walkout may ultimately result in a loss of more than half of the entire cancer center’s workforce, which amounts to over 3,500 people.

Conflicts at the institution arose following the June appointment of Svetlana Varfolomeyeva as director of the childhood cancer institute. Rykov accused Varfolomeyeva, his boss, of using intimidation and manipulation to force out current staff with a view to replacing them with new people.

Staff who opposed changes Varfolomeyeva introduced were pressured to quit, Rykov said, and many were saddled with an extra administrative burden that left less time for treating patients.

“She urged everyone to leave. So we did,” Rykov said in a phone interview. “Management got what they wanted.”

Navalny Support
In their video address, the doctors demanded the dismissal of Varfolomeyeva and her team and a greater degree of transparency in the allocation of pay to employees.

“We reached out to all government representatives, but no one listened to us,” Rykov says in the clip.

Rykov and his colleagues have been given support from the Alliance of Doctors, a medical workers’ union backed by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny which has helped organize dozens of protests over health care in Russia and now has branches in at least 20 regions.

In recent weeks, doctors across Russia have publicly complained about what they say are low salaries and dire work conditions, and many have quit. In Perm, medical workers are staging a mass walkout over a lack of staff and decent pay. In Nizhny Tagil, the entire team of surgeons at the city hospital quit in August, also over wages.

Anastasiya Vasilyeva, the head of the Alliance of Doctors, told RFE/RL that clinics across Russia are reaching the crisis point. In a telephone interview, she called the spate of resignations at the Blokhin Cancer Center “one part of a broken system of health care which exists across Russia” and “a link in the same chain” as the incidents in Nizhny Tagil, Perm, and elsewhere.

She said the trade union’s regional branches are helping doctors speak out and publicizing their efforts, but the various clinics and hospitals that have publicly condemned conditions for its staff are not coordinating activities. “This is all spontaneously happening across the country,” she said.

The management of the Blokhin Cancer Center has been quick to counter the allegations by Rykov and others. In comments to the press on September 30, its director Ivan Stilidi suggested that the doctors who authored the video address “had personal ambitions to take over” Varfolomeyeva’s position.

Stilidi then alleged they were being “steered” by “people outside the cancer center,” appearing to echo a narrative about foreign meddling commonly advanced among officials in Russia. He did not specify what people he was referring to.

But doctors who have quit their jobs at the institution, or claimed to have been pressured to do so, say that the current wave of resignations is likely to continue. Georgy Mentkevich, who appeared in the video address alongside Rykov, said that some may stay temporarily to offer critical care to the patients they oversee, but few plan to remain for long in the current circumstances.

“People see whom they’re being forced to work with, and they see what’s happened with the cancer center over the past two years under this new management,” Mentkevich told the online news site Podyom on September 30. “Today people are giving notice. And they will leave.”

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As Protests Increase, National Guard Ready to Crack Down

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“Dimon, what’s with the ballet?” Anti-corruption protesters on the Field of Mars in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Sergei Nikolayev/DP

Experts Speak of Sharp Increase in Number of Protests in Russia
Delovoi Peterburg
November 7, 2017

According to a report by the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CEPF), the number of social and political protests in Russia has risen sharply compared to the beginning of the year.

The number of protests has been continuously growing in Russia throughout the year. In the first quarter, 284 protests were recorded; in the second quarter, 378; and in the third quarter, 445. Thus, as noted in the report, the overall number of protests has increased by almost 60% since the beginning of the year.

The analysts at the CEPF divide protests into political protests, socio-economic protests, and labor protests. They note that around 70% of protests had to do with socio-economic issues, including protests by Russian truckers against the Plato road tolls system, and protests by Russian farmers against the seizure of land by agroholdings, as well as protests by hoodwinked investors in unbuilt cooperative apartment buildings.

Political protests came in second place, including protests by supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. A total of 106 political protests were recorded in the third quarter of 2017. There were 27 labor protests in the third quarter.

The number of conflicts related to labor relations has also steadily climbed throughout the year. The number of protests caused by cases of late payment and non-payment of wages, for example, has grown as follows: 142 in the first quarter, 196 in the second quarter, and 447 in the third quarter. Thus, by the third quarter, the number of such incidents had more than tripled.

The authors of the CEPR report cites figures provided by Rosstat, according to which the amount of unpaid back wages in Russia totaled 3.38 billion rubles [approx. 49 million euros] as of October 1, 2017. The number of incidents of late payment and non-payment of wages in the third quarter of 2017 (447 companies) was more than triple the number of such incidents in the first quarter (147 companies), and more than double the number in the second quarter (196 companies).

The analysts point out that Russia has not yet put in place a system for preventing and constructively solving social conflicts, and thus protests are still nearly the only effective means for employees to defend their rights.

“We should generally expect the high number of protests nationwide to continue, especially in the socio-economic realm. This is due to the fact the problems people (hoodwinked investors, truckers, farmers, opponents of construction projects, environmental activists et al.) have been currently protesting have not been solved. At the same time, evolution of the protest movement has been greatly hampered by the lack of capable political parties, grassroots organizations, and trade unions,” write CEPR’s analysts.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Ahead Of Election, Putin Seeks Wider Mandate For Russian National Guard
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
November 6, 2017

0327929D-DFC1-4E65-BD89-EC9685C0B625_cx0_cy8_cw0_w1023_r1_sRussian President Vladimir Putin (second right) and National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov (third left) take part in a ceremony marking National Guard Day in Moscow on March 27. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Klimentyev/TASS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed legislation to widen the responsibility of the National Guard, an entity created last year and headed by Putin’s former chief bodyguard, to include protecting regional governors.

The bill was published on the website of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on November 6.

The Duma is dominated by the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party and supports almost all Kremlin initiatives.

The proposed change could enhance Putin’s ability to crack down on dissent or seek to impose order if there is unrest in Russia’s far-flung regions.

The National Guard reports directly to the president. Its director, Viktor Zolotov, was chief of the presidential security service from 2000 to 2013.

The initiative comes months before a March 18 election in which Putin is expected to seek and secure a new six-year term.

Putin will be barred from seeking reelection in 2024 if he does win a fourth presidential term in the March vote, raising questions about how Russian politics will play out in the coming years and how he will maintain his grip.

Putin established the National Guard (Rosgvardia) in 2016 on the basis of the Interior Ministry troops and other security forces.

Its stated tasks initially included preserving “social order,” fighting against terrorism and extremism, and guarding state facilities.

The National Guard announced that it will be also responsible for a fingerprints database, issuing weapons-possession licenses, averting “threats to state order,” and protecting information security.

Nationalist Historical Fantasy

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Historical Fantasy
Andrei Zakharov, A Crossroads in Time: The New Rossiyans (Alfa Kniga, 2012)

None of our contemporaries who decided to vacation on the shores of a mysterious lake in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone expected the trip would change their future. A natural disaster and encounters with Red Army soldiers, surrounded near Kiev in 1941, and a detachment of White Guards from 1919 were not part of their plans. But man proposes and God disposes. They did not know who wanted to test them—God or someone else—by gathering and abandoning them in the mountains of South America in the sixteenth century, during the collapse of the Inca empire and its conquest by Spanish conquistadors. But the trials that befell their lot forced all of them to unite and start a new life.

Source: LitRes

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Police, Nationalists Clash As Russians Mark National Unity Day
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
November 04, 2017

Police detain protesters at the nationalist march in Moscow. Police detain protesters at the nationalist march in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Riot police and nationalist demonstrators clashed in Moscow on November 4 at an antigovernment demonstration coinciding with celebrations of Russia’s National Unity Day holiday.

Police detained several demonstrators in a crowd of nationalists who had gathered in southeastern Moscow for an annual Russian March that organizers called off almost as soon as it began after police refused to allow participants to carry banners.

Organizers said authorities had granted approval for banners at the demonstration. The city government had given official permission for the rally, and hundreds of participants had gathered for the event at the time police intervened.

Video footage showed one woman being carried off in a stretcher after what a Dozhd TV reporter at the scene described as a scuffle with riot police.

A second Russian March, meanwhile, was under way in northwestern Moscow.

The standoff between police and demonstrators came at the start of a politically charged weekend in which Russians nationwide are marking National Unity Day.

The holiday, which the Kremlin established more than a decade ago, has replaced Soviet-era celebrations of the Bolshevik Revolution anniversary.

This year’s holiday comes three days ahead of the centennial of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

A day before the celebrations, Russian authorities on November 3 said they had detained several backers of a self-exiled Kremlin critic in the Moscow area, claiming they were plotting to trigger riots by attacking government buildings and police during the holiday.

Russian opposition politician Vyacheslav Maltsev (right) at a Russian opposition rally on May 6, 2017.Russian opposition politician Vyacheslav Maltsev (right) at a Russian opposition rally on May 6, 2017. Photo courtesy of TASS

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said the suspects are members of a “conspiratorial cell” of Artpodgotovka (Artillery Bombardment), a movement established by outspoken opposition activist Vyacheslav Maltsev.

Maltsev, who has described himself as a nationalist and anarchist, has said on YouTube that Russia is up for a “revolution” this weekend.

RBC news agency cited an unidentified Interior Ministry source as saying that a spate of additional raids targeting Maltsev’s group were carried out in Moscow and the surrounding area on early on November 4.

Russia’s state TASS news agency quoted officials as saying that more than 90,000 security personnel will be on duty for some 2,000 Unity Day events across the country.

Nationalists traditionally hold rallies on November 4, while Russians nostalgic for the Soviet Union, such as the Communists, celebrate on November 7.

National Unity Day, which President Vladimir Putin established in 2005, officially honors a Russian victory over Polish forces in 1612.

In a ceremony commemorating the event, Putin on November 4 placed flowers at the Red Square monument to Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, who are credited with leading Russian troops against the Poles.

One Solution: Demolition

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Sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov putting the final touches on his monument to weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov. Photo courtesy of Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
September 19, 2017

Everything about the new monument in Moscow is disgusting. Once again, it is huge, and it shows us a non-military man holding a rifle. As an obvious symbol of militarism, it looks savage in the downtown of a major city. And then there is the very man the monument commemorates, who besides giving his surname to a lucrative arms brands apparently did nothing else for his country, let alone for a city in which he never lived.

Debates are underway about what to do with monuments when the context in which we view them has changed. Should we demolish them? We are not obliged to destroy them: we could move them to places where their symbolic baggage vanishes. Or would it be better to recode monuments where they stand by building something around them and thus imparting a new meaning to them? In my opinion, we have no choice in this case. There is no way to remedy this abomination. It can only be demolished.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in St. Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Moscow To Unveil Statue Of AK-47 Inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov
Tom Balmforth
RFE/RL
September 18, 2017

75AC53AB-0E8F-47DE-BC13-452E78BD5FBF_w1023_r1_sThe 7.5-meter tall statue to Mikhail Kalashnikov, which stands on a northern intersection of the Garden Ring around central Moscow.

MOSCOW — After several false starts and some grumbling from locals, a prominent statue of a gun-toting Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of one of the world’s most ubiquitous weapons of war, is set to be unveiled in an official ceremony in the Russian capital on September 19.

The 7.5-meter metal likeness — still covered in plastic — features Kalashnikov cradling his eponymous AK-47 assault rifle and looking west down the Garden Ring that loops around central Moscow.

The statue was hoisted onto its plinth over the weekend beside a new business center.

A second metalwork sculpture, of St. George slaying a dragon with a spear tipped with a rifle sight with AK-47 written on it, stands nearby.

The Kalashnikov statues’ sculptor, Salavat Shcherbakov, is also the artist behind a towering 17-meter statue of Prince Vladimir the Great that was erected — amid controversy — outside the Kremlin in November at a ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin.

A4E87823-7F31-405E-A58C-7FE440CBDC33_w650_r0_sRussian sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov presents a model for a monument to Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, at his workshop in Moscow on November 10, 2016.

Shcherbakov told TASS news agency that the rifle was added to his original plan for the Kalashnikov statue because people might not recognize him without his signature contribution to the Soviet Army.

“So we dared to include the rifle after all,” Shcherbakov said.

Other prominent statues in the vicinity include statues to poets Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky presented plans to Putin for the Kalashnikov statue in September 2016 during a tour of the Kalashnikov arms manufacturer, headquartered in Izhevsk, the capital of the republic of Udmurtia.

The project was backed by the Russian Military-Historic Society, which is chaired by Medinsky and Rostec, the state weapons and technology conglomerate run by powerful Putin ally Sergei Chemezov.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Medinsky, Chemezov, and Kalashnikov’s daughter, Yelena Kalashnikova, were expected to attend the unveiling ceremony on September 19.

The statue was originally meant to be unveiled on January 21, marking the day in 1948 when Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov signed a decree ordering the construction of an experimental batch of Kalashnikov rifles.

But the ceremony was moved because of inclement weather to May 8, ahead of Victory Day, and then to September 19, Gunmaker Day.

Not everyone is on board with the project.

7926FEAF-D770-479A-84A0-0FB57CC87D96_w650_r0_sMikhail Kalashnikov with one of his fabled assault rifles in 2006.

Veronika Dolina, a local resident, posted a photograph of an apparent protester at the still-shrouded Kalashnikov statue holding a sign that said, “No to weapons, no to war.” She wrote: “Man at Kalashnikov pedestal. Humble hero, no posing.”

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“No to weapons, no to war.” Photo courtesy of Veronika Dolina/Facebook

Resident Natalya Seina told 360, a local media outlet, “This is not artistic, to put it mildly. This is trash. It’s loathsome.” She also noted how Kalashnikov had lived his life in Izhevsk, not Moscow, unlike playwright Anton Chekhov and poet Aleksandr Pleshchev. “These are probably more worthy people than the creator of a rifle.”

There are estimated to be as many as 200 million Kalashnikov rifles around the world —prompting one expert to label it “the Coca-Cola of small arms” — and they are manufactured in dozens of countries.

Mikhail Kalashnikov died in 2013 at the age of 94.

Cossacks versus Pokémon: Which Are More Real?

“In 1996, game designer Satoshi Tajiri invented the Pokémon, which immediately garnered immense popularity. Years have passed, and their glory had seemingly faded, but on July 6, 2016, the Pokémon Go mobile app set the Internet world on fire and split Russian society. Some psychiatrists believe the game was developed by American neo-Nazis; others, that it is a CIA project; still others, that it is simply a brilliant commercial project. But spokesmen for the Russian Orthodox Church have detected an occult component in the game. While others have been trying to figure out what Pokémon Go is, the Cossacks are certain the game is part of the information war against Russia. So they went out on a raid against the Pokémon.”
—Annotation to the video of a TV news report, above. It was posted on YouTube on August 1, 2016, by Svoyo TV, based in Stavropol, Russia. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Rustam Adagamov for the heads-up

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If the “Cossacks” are against this Pokémon business, I am all for it. And you should be, too. Because there are no “Cossacks” in reality, only mental patients, policemen, and FSB officers dressing up as “Cossacks.”

In this sense, the Pokémon are just as real as the “Cossacks,” but much less harmful. They don’t try and shut down art exhibitions and plays, they don’t assault opposition leaders, they don’t attack Pussy Riot with “real Cossack whips” in Sochi, and they have not set themselves up as the ultimate voice of popular Russian common sense.

The “news segment,” above, is like a news segment in which Darth Vader is asked what he thinks about Santa Claus.

There is no Darth Vader. There is no Santa Claus. There are no Cossacks.

“Russia’s strident conservatism,” mentioned in the article, below, is a hoax as well, a total fiction, spun from whole cloth by a gang of crooks and thieves who, first of all, want to fool themselves about having real “moral” values, “anti-liberal” values, rather than admitting they are just soulless, greedy nihilists on the make and on the take.

More importantly, the “conservative” fiction is a nifty gimmick for occupying the minds and hearts of people whose time would be better spent thinking hard and creatively about how to rid themselves of the gang of crooks and thieves, rather than tolerating or even buying into the endless waves of hokey moral panics dreamt up and launched by mainstream TV, the Putinist online troll army, the relevant FSB directorates and offices in the presidential administrations, and the FSB and police agents (bolstered, no doubt, by a handful of true believers) who dress up as “Cossacks,” “members” of the “grassroots” National Liberation Movement (NOD), and so on.

Finally, pace what Tom Balmforth has written, below, there are no “senators” in Russia, either, for the starkly simple reason that Russia has no Senate. (Post-Petrine Imperial Russia had an institution called the Senate, but that is neither here nor there.) The upper house of Russia’s current rubber-stamp parliament is called the Federation Council. A few years ago, its members took to calling themselves “senators,” just as other self-empowered clowns took to calling themselves “Cossacks.” No one, especially self-respecting reality-based journalists, is obliged to encourage this blatant attempt at dignifying an utterly undemocratic, unelected institution.

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Pokemon Go Away: Russians See CIA Plot, ‘Satanism’ In Viral App
Tom Balforth
RFE/RL
July 15, 2016

Russia’s strident conservatism, perhaps best personified by Cossacks and the Orthodox Church, probably could not have less in common with Pokemons, the multicolored, virtual “pocket monsters” from Japan’s Nintendo.

So it’s unsurprising that reports that Pokemon Go, a new augmented-reality app that invites users to seek and “collect” the creatures by navigating in real space with the help of a mobile device, could be unveiled in Russia this week have irked some of the country’s conservatives.

Further still, though, some in Russia have depicted the application as an extraordinary scheme by the U.S. secret services to craftily enlist millions of people across the world to photograph and film hidden, out-of-the-way places.

“Imagine that the ‘little creature’ in question doesn’t appear in some park but on a secret site where a conscript or other soldier takes and photographs it with his camera,” state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Aleksandr Mikhailov, a retired major general of the Federal Security Service (FSB), on July 15 as saying. “It’s recruitment by one’s own personal desire and without any coercion. This is the ideal way for secret services to gather information. And no one takes any heed, entertainment is fashionable after all.”

Russian ultranationalist thinker and frequent conspiracy theorist Aleksandr Dugin made similar allegations on July 12, even claiming that Niantic, the San Francisco-based developer of the application, is linked to a CIA venture capital firm.

Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov told Tass his ministry does not intend to specially regulate or ban the application. “Some people like creating their own startup, achieving results, some people like to lounge on the sofa all day, some people like running after Pokemons and falling into ditches. Everyone chooses for themselves, happily, we have a free country,” Nikiforov said.

On July 14, influential business newspaper Vedomosti quoted two sources in Nintendo’s Russia office as saying the application could be released by the end of this week.

There has been some hype on Russia’s social networks where Pokemon Go has been trending, and experts predict it will take that country by storm, toomuch to the disapproval of some officials.

On July 14, Lyudmila Bokova, a senator [sic] from Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, attacked the latest incarnation of the Pokemon franchise as a provocation and a trick to extract money from the parents of its fans.

“This is some kind of strange trick to renew this story, to again get children hooked on who knows what, and to actively obtain the money in their parents’ wallets,” Senator Lyudmila Bokova was quoted by Tass as saying.

‘Smacks Of Satanism’

Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, the country’s cultural capital [sic], the Irbis Orthodox Union of Cossacks called for the application to be formally banned.

Andrei Polyakov, the ataman of the society, said he intends to appeal to the Consumer Health Watchdog and the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, Znak.ru reports.

“We need to drag people out of the virtual world; otherwise it all smacks of Satanism. There are so many real interesting things and professions in the world, so much of interest to do that it is wrong to be distracted by every nonsense.”

Polyakov continued: “As for churches and temples, holy places, cultural institutions, children’s institutions, this absolutely has to be banned. We must respect culture and people’s faith, regardless which. Either there must be a sensible framework, or instructions that must be observed, or the application has to be banned completely.”

The smartphone application invites users to gather imaginary Pokemons that are projected onto images of real locations.

Vakhtang Kipshidze, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, has urged users not to play the game in places of worship. In particular, he mentioned the duels that can be called between Pokemon Go users and their retinues of pocket monsters.

The Kremlin’s Council for Human Rights and Civil Society said on July 14 that it would discuss threats linked to the game and would make recommendations.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said of the fad in the Russian context: “Pokemons are not the reason to visit the Kremlin, a jewel of world culture. Moreover, the Kremlin is unprecedentedly open, although it is the residence of the head of state.”

Pokemon Go has prompted concerns outside of Russia, too. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, for instance, felt obliged to warn players and seek exclusion from the game, announcing that “playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism.”

Kuwait on July 15 banned the game at “sensitive landmarks,” AP said, reportedly to include military and other government locations. Authorities in California said two men fell off a seaside cliff there after climbing through a barrier to play Pokemon Go, underscoring what U.S. officials have warned is a risky tendency to trespass in the heat of the chase.

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Image courtesy of appleapple.top